MADABA, Jordan – In the mountains of southwestern Jordan, where tradition says Moses saw the Promised Land, dozens of sick dogs lay chained and starving at an isolated olive plantation.
The dogs, including 40 puppies, eat only rotten chicken wings every few days, getting just enough water and food to keep them alive to breed. But the scene that would horrify animal lovers in the West gets only a shrug from their breeder, a 27-year-old man who describes his operation as a “great tax-free business.”
Dog breeding — coupled with dognapping — is a thriving business in Jordan, where lax laws call for only a $7 fine for violators and police remain hesitant to pursue those suspected of animal abuse. Activists have campaigned for years for increased penalties, but lawmakers seem uninterested to pursue them in a culture where animal abuse remains rampant.
For Mohammad, the breeder at the olive plantation in Madaba, 30 kilometres (18 miles) southwest of Amman, the abused animals represent $7,000 a month in earnings. He said he can make that much from selling just four puppies, mostly German Shepherds and Huskies, raised at his father’s farm.
Most of the breeding dogs come from “street hunters,” said Mohammad, who asked that only his first name be used to avoid having to pay taxes on his additional income. That’s the term used for thieves who steal animals off the streets and from homes in Jordan to sell to breeders.
Such thefts often garner shrugs from authorities. Interior decorator Zeina Khalil said she had two German Shepherd puppies stolen from her home in the capital, Amman, in July. She called the police, but “the operator hung up in my face when I told him it was my two poor puppies,” Khalil said.
The thefts are so organized that every Friday before dawn, breeders converge on the so-called “thieves market” in Amman to buy stolen puppies, dogs, guinea pigs, snakes, cats and birds of all kinds. An Associated Press journalist who visited the market recently saw a man who identified himself as Mahmoud sell a barking German Shepherd for $100 that he freely admitted was the victim of a dognapping.
The dog was “stolen from a filthy rich family that taught him manners,” Mahmoud said.
Casual animal abuse remains common across much of the Arab world. In Lebanon, an online video last month showed two young men force a cat into a microwave and cook it for few seconds until it screamed in pain. In Egypt, authorities beat pigs to death with iron bars and stabbed piglets over swine-flu fears.
Such abuse likely comes from Islamic tradition, which warns adherents against contact with dogs and other animals deemed impure, said Hussein Khazaei, the dean of the sociology department at Jordan’s Al-Balqa Applied University.
“Generation after generation was taught that dogs are impure, cats dirty the house and ruin the furniture, that animals are generally vicious and that it is useless to have a pet,” Khazaei said.
There have been some efforts made toward protecting animals in Jordan. Princess Alia — a passionate animal advocate and the half-sister of Jordan’s King Abdullah II — serves as the chair of the country’s first animal shelter. She also forced a Jordanian slaughterhouse to close after Australian animal rights activists took video there of a bull being beaten and stabbed before having its head cut off.
Yet lawmakers and government officials declined interview requests to discuss animal rights in Jordan with an AP journalist. Margret Ledger, a Briton who runs the animal shelter Princess Alia is involved with, simply called the lack of compassion for animals “very sad and frustrating.”
That attitude can even be seen at Jordan’s largest zoo, where a zookeeper named Mahmoud beat a lion’s head with an iron bar to force him to roar for visitors on a recent day.
“Animals must be treated forcefully to know that humans are their master,” he said, smiling.